San Ysidro McDonald's massacre
- For the 1992 botched robbery, see Sydney River McDonald's murders.
|San Ysidro McDonald's massacre|
Location of San Diego
|Location||San Diego, California, United States|
|Date||July 18, 1984
c. 3:59 p.m.–5:17 p.m. (PST)
|Mass shooting, mass murder|
|Deaths||22 (including perpetrator)|
The San Ysidro McDonald's massacre was a mass shooting that occurred in and around a McDonald's restaurant in the San Diego neighborhood of San Ysidro on July 18, 1984. The perpetrator, 41-year-old James Huberty, shot and killed 21 people and injured 19 others, before being fatally shot by a SWAT team sniper.
The shooting remained the deadliest mass murder committed in America until the 1991 Luby's shooting, and remains the deadliest shooting rampage in which the perpetrator was killed by police as opposed to suicide.
Chain of events
Prior to incident
On July 15, 1984, three days before the shooting, Huberty commented to his wife, Etna, that he suspected he may have a mental problem. Two days later, on July 17, he called a mental health clinic, requesting an appointment. Leaving his contact details with the receptionist, he was assured the clinic would return his call within hours. According to his wife, he sat quietly beside the telephone for several hours, awaiting a return call from the mental health clinic, before abruptly walking out of the family home and riding to an unknown destination on his motorcycle. (Unbeknown to Huberty, the receptionist had misspelled his name as "Shouberty". Furthermore, his polite demeanor conveyed no sense of immediate urgency to the operator; therefore, the call was logged as a "non-crisis" inquiry to be handled within 48 hours.)
Approximately one hour later, Huberty returned home in a contented mood. After eating dinner, he, his wife, and their two daughters (aged 12 and 10) cycled to a nearby park. Later that evening, he and Etna watched a film together.
The following morning—Wednesday, July 18—Huberty took his wife and daughters to the San Diego Zoo. In the course of the walk, he told his wife his life was effectively over. Referring to the mental health clinic's failure to return his phone call the previous day, he said, "Well, society had their chance."
After eating lunch at a McDonald's restaurant in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, the Hubertys then returned home. Shortly thereafter, he walked into his bedroom as his wife lay relaxing upon the bed; he leaned toward her and said, "I want to kiss you goodbye." Etna asked him where he was going, to which he replied he was "going hunting humans".
Carrying a bundle wrapped inside a checkered blanket, Huberty looked toward his elder daughter, Zelia, as he walked toward the front door of the family home and said, "Goodbye. I won't be back." He then proceeded to drive down San Ysidro Boulevard. According to eyewitnesses, he first drove toward the Big Bear supermarket and then the U.S. Post Office, before entering the parking lot of a McDonald's restaurant located approximately 200 yards from his apartment.
At approximately 3:56 p.m. on July 18, James Huberty drove his Mercury Marquis sedan into the parking lot of the McDonald's restaurant on San Ysidro Boulevard. In his possession were a 9mm Browning semi-automatic pistol, a 9mm Uzi, a Winchester 12 gauge pump-action shotgun, and a cloth bag filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for each weapon. A total of 45 customers were present inside the restaurant.
Entering the restaurant minutes later, Huberty first aimed his shotgun at a 16-year-old employee named John Arnold. As he did so, the assistant manager, Guillermo Flores, shouted, "Hey, John. That guy's going to shoot you." According to Arnold, when Huberty pulled the trigger, "nothing happened". As Huberty inspected his gun, the manager of the restaurant, 22-year-old Neva Caine, walked past the service counter of the restaurant in the direction of the entrance, as Arnold—believing the incident to be a distasteful joke—began to walk away from the gunman. Huberty fired his shotgun toward the ceiling, then aimed the Uzi at Neva Caine, shooting her once beneath her left eye. Caine died minutes later.
Immediately after shooting Caine, Huberty fired his shotgun at John Arnold, wounding the youth in the torso, before shouting a comment to the effect of, "Everybody on the ground." Huberty then referred to all present in the restaurant as "dirty swines", before shouting that he had killed thousands and that he intended to "kill a thousand more". Upon hearing Huberty's expletive-ridden rants and seeing Neva Caine and John Arnold shot, one customer, 25-year-old Victor Rivera, tried to persuade Huberty not to shoot anymore. In response, Huberty shot Rivera 14 times; repeatedly shouting "Shut up", as Rivera screamed in pain.
As most of the customers tried to hide beneath tables and service booths, Huberty turned his attention toward six women and children who had been walking from the service counter of the restaurant toward the dining area and had huddled together when he began shooting. He first shot and killed 18-year-old María Colmenero-Silva with a single gunshot to the chest; he then fatally shot 9-year-old Claudia Pérez in the cheek, stomach, chest, thigh, hip, armpit and head with his Uzi, and wounded her 15-year-old sister, Imelda, and an 11-year-old named Aurora Peña with the same weapon. Peña—initially wounded in the leg—had been shielded by her pregnant aunt, 18-year-old Jackie Reyes. In her later accounts of the incident, Peña said she felt her aunt's body "bucking and jerking" as Reyes was shot 48 times with the Uzi. Beside his mother's body, 8-month-old Carlos Reyes sat upwards and wailed, whereupon Huberty shouted at the child to be silent, then took aim and killed the infant with a single pistol shot to the center of the back.
Huberty then shot and killed a 62-year-old trucker named Laurence Versluis, before targeting one of many families seated near the play area of the restaurant, who had tried to shield their children beneath the tables with their bodies. Thirty-one-year-old Blythe Regan Herrera had shielded her 11-year-old son Matao beneath one booth, with her husband shielding 12-year-old Keith Thomas beneath a booth located directly opposite. Keith Thomas later recalled Blythe Herrera screaming, "He's coming down the aisle shooting everybody", as Huberty began shooting people seated in the restaurant as he walked toward them. Ronald Herrera urged Thomas not to move as he shielded the boy from the gunfire with his own body. Thomas was shot twice in the shoulder and arms, but was not seriously wounded; Ronald Herrera was shot eight times in the stomach, arm, hip, shoulder and head, but survived; his wife, Blythe, and son, Matao, had both been killed by numerous gunshots to the head.
Close to where the Herrera family and Keith Thomas had hidden, two women named Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas and Guadalupe del Rio had also tried to hide beneath a booth. Guadalupe del Rio, 24, had pressed herself beneath a booth and against a wall; she was shielded by her friend, 31-year-old Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas. Del Rio was hit several times but was not seriously wounded, whereas Vargas received a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. She died of her wound the next day, the only person fatally wounded who lived long enough to reach a hospital. At another booth, Huberty killed a 45-year-old banker named Hugo Velazquez Vasquez with a single gunshot to the chest.
The first of many calls to the emergency services was made at 4:00 p.m., although the dispatcher mistakenly directed responding officers to another McDonald's two miles (three kilometers) from the San Ysidro Boulevard restaurant. Within ten minutes, the police had arrived at the correct restaurant. Immediately, a lockdown was imposed on an area spanning six blocks from the site of the shootings. The police also established a command post two blocks from the restaurant, and deployed 175 officers in strategic locations. (These officers would be joined by SWAT team members within the hour, who also took positions around the McDonald's restaurant.)
|Killed inside restaurant
|Killed outside restaurant
|Wounded and injured
Shortly after the first 9-1-1 call had been made, a young woman named Lydia Flores drove into the parking lot. Stopping at the food pickup window, Flores noticed shattered windows and the sound of gunfire, before "looking up and there he was, just shooting". Flores reversed her car until she crashed into a fence; she hid with her two-year-old daughter until the shooting ended.
Three 11-year-old boys then rode their bikes into the west parking lot to purchase soft drinks. Hearing a member of the public yell something unintelligible from across the street, all three stopped their bikes and hesitated, before Huberty shot all three boys with his shotgun and Uzi. Joshua Coleman fell to the ground with wounds to his stomach, buttocks, hands and arms; he later recalled looking toward his two friends, Omarr Hernández and David Delgado as he lay on the floor, noting that Hernández had fallen to the ground and begun vomiting, whereas Delgado "fell back and blood started coming out of his head and his eyes rolled back." Coleman survived; both Hernández and Delgado had received fatal shots to the head and body.
Almost immediately after shooting the three boys and trying unsuccessfully to focus his weapons upon Lydia Flores and her daughter, Huberty noted an elderly couple, Miguel and Aida Victoria, walking toward the entrance. As Miguel reached to open the door for his wife, Huberty fired his shotgun, killing Aida with a gunshot to the face and wounding Miguel. One uninjured survivor, Oscar Mondragon, later reported that he had seen Miguel cradling his wife in his arms as he repeatedly wiped blood from her face. As Victoria shouted curses at Huberty, Huberty walked toward the entrance and yelled angrily at the old man before killing him with a single shotgun wound to the head.
At approximately 4:10 p.m., a Mexican couple, Astolfo and Maricela Felix, drove toward one of the service areas of the restaurant. Noting the shattered glass, Astolfo initially thought renovation work was in progress and that Huberty—striding toward the car—was a repairman. Huberty fired his shotgun at the couple and their 4-month-old daughter, Karlita, striking Maricela in the head, arms and chest, blinding her in one eye and permanently rendering one hand unusable. Her baby was critically wounded in the head, chest and abdomen. Astolfo himself was wounded in the chest and neck. As Astolfo and Maricela staggered away from Huberty's line of fire, Maricela passed her shrieking child into the arms of a fleeing woman and shouted in Spanish, "Please save my baby", before she (Maricela) slumped against a parked car. The woman to whom Maricela had handed her child rushed the baby to a nearby hospital as her husband assisted Astolfo and Maricela into a nearby building. All three Felixes survived.
Several survivors later said they saw Huberty calmly walk toward the service counter and adjust the tuning of a portable radio, possibly to search for news reports as to his actions, before selecting an unknown music station and continuing to shoot. Shortly thereafter, he vaulted the service counter to search the kitchen area, where he discovered six employees who had taken refuge. Upon seeing these employees, he said, "Oh, there's more," before shouting as he raised the Uzi, "You're trying to hide from me," as two employees escaped through emergency exits. One of the female employees huddled in this location screamed in Spanish, "Don't kill me. Don't kill me," before he opened fire, killing 21-year-old Paulina López, 19-year-old Elsa Borboa-Firro and 18-year-old Margarita Padilla and critically wounding 17-year-old Alberto Leos, who crawled toward a basement utility room where five other employees and a female customer had hidden.
Inside the dining area of the restaurant, Huberty was not cowed by the presence of emergency services around the restaurant. When a fire engine drove within range, he repeatedly pierced the vehicle with bullets, but did not wound any occupants. One wounded teenager—19-year-old Jose Pérez—had begun moaning, whereupon Huberty fatally shot the youth, who slumped dead at the booth he had been sitting in, still clutching his baseball cap. Pérez died alongside his friend and neighbor, Gloria González, and a young woman named Michelle Carncross. At one point, Aurora Peña, who had lain wounded beside her dead aunt, baby cousin and two friends, noted a lull in the firing. Opening her eyes, Peña saw Huberty standing only feet away from her and staring in her direction. Noting Peña was still alive, Huberty threw a bag of french fries at her before retrieving his shotgun and shooting the girl in the jaw, neck and arm. Peña survived her injuries, although she would remain hospitalized longer than any other survivor.
Occasionally, Huberty blurted justifications for murdering his victims as he shot them. As had been the case with Aurora Peña, he sometimes threw fast food at his victims before shooting them.
As the massacre unfolded, police had established a command post two blocks from the McDonald's restaurant. They initially did not know how many shooters were inside, since Huberty was using firearms of several different types, and because of the sheer number of shots being fired. Because most of the restaurant's windows had been shattered by gunfire, the shards of glass within window frames reflected into the field of vision of the officers deployed around the restaurant.
End of incident
At 5:17 p.m., the SWAT sniper obtained an unobstructed view of Huberty from the neck down; he fired a single round, which severed Huberty's aorta and exited through his spine, leaving an exit wound one inch square and sending him sprawling backwards onto the floor directly in front of the service counter. Huberty's chest heaved, then relaxed.
The incident had lasted for 78 minutes, during which time Huberty fired 257 rounds of ammunition, killing 20 people and wounding 20 others, one of whom died the following day. Seventeen of the victims were killed inside the restaurant, with four additional victims killed in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant. Several victims had tried to stanch their bleeding with napkins—often in vain.
Of the fatalities, 13 died from gunshot wounds to the head, seven from gunshots to the chest, and one victim, 8-month-old Carlos Reyes, from a single 9mm gunshot to the back.
The victims, whose ages ranged from 8 months to 74 years, were predominantly, though not exclusively, of Mexican or Mexican-American heritage.
Although Huberty stated during the shooting that he had killed thousands in Vietnam, he had never actually served in any military branch.
Due to the number of victims, local funeral homes had to use the San Ysidro Civic Center to hold all the wakes. The local parish, Mount Carmel Church, resorted to holding back-to-back funeral masses to accommodate all the dead.
Within two days of the mass shooting, the San Ysidro Boulevard restaurant had been refurbished and renovated, and was again open for business in the hope that—as one employee commented—the restaurant would become "just another McDonald's." The newly renovated restaurant was razed on July 28. McDonald's later built another restaurant nearby. The same day the restaurant opened, McDonald's announced a commitment to donate $1 million to a survivors' fund. Following the July 28 closure of the restaurant, McDonald's donated the ground to the city, with the stipulation that no restaurant be constructed upon the site. For over four years, alternate plans to convert the site into either a memorial park, or a shrine to the dead failed to materialize, although several makeshift memorials were built and torn down. The land upon which the McDonald's restaurant had stood was sold in February 1988 to Southwestern College for $136,000, with the agreement that a 300-square-foot area in front of the campus extension they intended to construct upon the site building becoming a permanent memorial to the 21 victims who died in the massacre.
In front of the school, there stands a memorial to the victims, consisting of 21 hexagonal white marble pillars ranging in height from one to six feet and each bearing the name of one of the victims. This memorial was designed by Roberto Valdes, a former student at Southwestern College, who said of the sculpture: "The 21 hexagons represent each person that died, and they are different heights, representing the variety of ages and races of the people involved in the massacre. They are bonded together in the hopes that the community, in a tragedy like this, will stick together, like they did." Every anniversary, the monument is decorated with flowers and on the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, candles and offerings are brought on behalf of the victims. The monument is at 460 West San Ysidro Boulevard.
As a direct result of the massacre, the city of San Diego increased training for special units, and purchased more powerful firearms to better equip police to deal with future such scenarios. According to one officer, who confessed to feeling "inadequate" with regards to the fact he had been equipped with a .38 caliber revolver: "The time had come where you had to have a full-time, committed and dedicated, highly trained, well-equipped team ... able to respond rapidly, anywhere in the city." Other cities across America would later seek advice from San Diego upon how to develop tactical teams. Such elite units are now part of most larger police departments across America.
Several family members of those killed, along with survivors of the massacre, filed several lawsuits against the McDonald's Corporation and the local franchisee in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. The court eventually consolidated these lawsuits and then dismissed them before trial on a defense motion for summary judgment; the plaintiffs appealed. On July 25, 1987, the California Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment for the defendants because (1) McDonald's or any other business has no duty of care to protect patrons from an unforeseeable assault by a murderous madman; and (2) plaintiffs could not prove causation because the standard reasonable measures normally used by restaurants to deter criminals, such as guards and closed-circuit television cameras, could not possibly have deterred the perpetrator, because he did not care about his own survival.
In the weeks following the massacre, Huberty's wife and daughters stayed with a family friend. Amidst impromptu protests from some residents, Etna received the first payout from the survivor's fund. In 1986, she unsuccessfully sued both McDonald's and Babcock and Wilcox, his longtime former employer, in an Ohio state court for $5 million. The suit claimed that the massacre was triggered by both a poor diet, and her husband working around highly poisonous metals, further citing that monosodium glutamate in McDonald's food, combined with the high levels of lead and cadmium discovered in Huberty's body at his autopsy—most likely built up from fumes inhaled during his 14 years of welding at Babcock and Wilcox— had induced delusions and uncontrollable rage. (Autopsy results also revealed there were no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the killings.)
Etna Huberty and her daughters relocated to the nearby town of Spring Valley, where her daughters enrolled in school under assumed names. She died of breast cancer in 2003. James Huberty's body was cremated on July 23, 1984. His ashes were interred in his home state of Ohio.
James O. Huberty, pictured in October 1983
October 11, 1942|
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||July 18, 1984
San Diego, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Fatally shot by San Diego Police Department SWAT sniper|
|Occupation||Former welder and security guard|
|Date||July 18, 1984
c. 3:59 p.m.–5:17 p.m.
|Location(s)||San Ysidro, San Diego|
|Target(s)||Staff and customers of restaurant|
|Weapons||Uzi carbine, Browning HP, 12-gauge Winchester 1200|
James Oliver Huberty (October 11, 1942 – July 18, 1984) was born in Canton, Ohio. When he was three, he contracted polio, and even though he made a progressive recovery, the disease caused him to suffer permanent walking difficulties. In the early 1950s, his father bought a farm in the Pennsylvania Amish Country. His mother refused to live in the Amish country, and soon abandoned her family to do sidewalk preaching for a Southern Baptist organization.
In 1962, Huberty enrolled at a Jesuit community college and earned a degree in sociology. He would later receive a license for embalming at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1965, he married Etna, a woman he met while attending mortuary school. They had two daughters, Zelia and Cassandra Huberty. The Huberty family settled in Massillon, Ohio near Canton, where James worked as an undertaker at the Don Williams Funeral Home. They were forced to relocate to Canton in 1971 after their house in Massillon was set ablaze.
Huberty found work as a welder for Union Metal Inc. while living in Canton. He and Etna had a history of domestic violence, with Etna filing a report with the Canton Department of Children and Family Services that her husband had "messed up" her jaw. She would produce tarot cards and pretend to read his future to pacify him and his bouts of violence, thus producing a temporary calming effect.
Huberty, a self-proclaimed survivalist, saw signs of what he thought was growing trouble in America, and believed that government regulations were the cause of business failures, including his own. He believed that international bankers were purposefully manipulating the Federal Reserve System and bankrupting the nation. Convinced that Soviet aggression was everywhere, he believed that the breakdown of society was near, perhaps through economic collapse or nuclear war. He committed himself to prepare to survive this coming collapse and, while in Canton, provisioned his house with thousands of dollars of non-perishable food and six guns that he intended to use to defend his home during what he believed was the coming chaos. When he moved from Ohio he left the food behind but brought the guns with him.
Huberty had an uncontrollable twitch in his right arm as a result of a motorcycle accident, a condition that made it impossible to continue as a welder. The Huberty family left Canton in January 1984 and briefly stayed in Tijuana, Mexico. They then returned to the United States and settled in San Diego's San Ysidro neighborhood. Huberty was able to find work as a security guard. He was dismissed from this position two weeks before the shooting. His apartment was three blocks away from the site of the massacre.
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